The modern world is trying so hard to find the solution for the suffering of victims of bullying, and we are doing it by trying to pass school anti-bully laws, as though a law can make bullying magically disappear from schools. In fact, now pressure is being put on the US Congress to do something about bullying. But how can Congress make bullying disappear from schools when anti-bully programs have a dismal success record? And does Congress even know how to get rid of bullying within Congress?
The truly ironic thing is that the solution has been known for thousands of years. It is called "wisdom." All wisdom is about using our brains to understand and solve problems. Expecting the government to help us by protecting us from bullies and by punishing them for us is not wisdom - it is foolishness.
And this is the basis of my approach: to provide people with the wisdom to solve their own problems. That this has become a revolutionary approach to bullying is mind-boggling to me. This is supposed to be the very basis of the psychological helping professions.
Anyway, every once in a while I get a wonderful letter from someone who benefited from the free material on my website. I created my webiste, www.Bullies2Buddies.com, so I could provide the simple, age-old solution to bullying to those who are suffering, and nothing makes me happier than to see that it is accomplishing its mission. A few months ago, I featured one such story. You can read it here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-bully-witch-hunt/200902/website-saves-victims-bullying
More recently, one of my blog readers who identifies herself as Concerned Parent wrote a comment that was so well written, and expresses just about everything I have been trying to teach about the wrong and the right way to deal with bullying, that I believe it deserves to be read by all my blog readers. (I left out a couple of sentences that I felt weren't particularly relevant to the story.)
I am happy to offer my experience -- the basis of "empirical evidence."
My son attends a large magnet school for academically-talented kids. The first year he was bullied I reported it to the vice-principal, who said, in no uncertain terms, that he would take care of it. He handled it according to policy (they have a "whole school policy") and things grew worse, for now not only was the group of 8 other boys bullying him but they let other kids know that they had gotten in trouble for it. Soon other kids joined in to bully him, and along with them an administrator/teacher who felt that my son deserved to be bullied. (One thing administrators don't get is that bullied kids often look as if they are troublemakers, because they are responding to being punched in the back, stabbed with pencils, books thrown to the floor, etc). In fact, this teacher started viciously bullying my son herself. Then I had to intervene with her and threaten action (she got quite out of hand with her bullying). When this happened, she mocked my son one last time and warned other teachers that my son was a "troublemaker." So then he was labeled by teachers and ostracized and bullied by kids, and it mushroomed and mushroomed out of control, including physical, verbal, cyber- and cell-phone bullying. His accounts were hacked, he was receiving ugly text messages and phone calls. Awful.
At this point other administrators got involved, and it continued to escalate until one day my son received a terrible death threat, detailed and gruesome, so ugly that he feared going to school. I reported it to the school and they followed procedure and brought the two boys together for "conflict resolution." Good lord. Now the kid who threatened my son became a hero, and more kids began to threaten and mock my son. Every intervention made things worse: mine, teachers, administrators, psychologists, on and on, auditorium programs, ridiculous health class exercises, classroom visits from high school kids. Meantime, I was madly reading everything I could lay my hands on about bullying -- I was up days and nights researching -- (I have a Ph.D. so know my way around the library). I also sought professional help--child psychologists, well-regarded--and their advice was the same as the literature: ineffective.
And when you watch your child sinking, helpless, into suicidal thoughts, panic, despair, I cannot tell you how terrible that is. Changing schools, in his condition, made little sense and was a huge gamble since, given the world we live in, the bullying was quite likely to find its way to any other school he attended, and I wasn't in a position to move out of the city.
In my son's darkest hour, I happened upon Mr. Kalman's website. It sounded crazy to me, but I was out of answers. He was the only one to sound a different note--it's remarkable how homogenous the bullying literature is. There was also a kind of common sense in his approach, a practical wisdom and understanding that the bullying literature simply doesn't have. The bullying literature is, in effect, literature about literature rather than observation and analysis of specific cases, generally. Those that look at empirical evidence invariably conclude that the approaches don't work
What I came to learn, personally and from the mountain of research I read, is that they DO NOT WORK. They exacerbate the problem. They make the bullied kid feel terrible about himself, and they excite and expand the ranks of the bullies.
But I can't say that I approached Mr. Kalman's method with great confidence. It seemed too straightforward.
My son tried it and it worked. It worked instantly. One day he was bullied, the next day it stopped. He didn't even have to wait it out the way Mr. Kalman predicted. Kids immediately (weirdly, almost magically) lost interest as soon as my son acted nonchalant in response to their mockery. Frankly, this experience has had a terrible effect on my own feelings about human beings: we are a bunch of monkeys, easily aroused and easily manipulated.
Let me add that Mr. Kalman's advice is not to "ignore" bullying. That's a naive reduction. Its real force is that it empowers the victim, teaches him not to take the attacks personally, not to own it. You must learn to respond to provocation with a different, empowered attitude--nonchalant, unaffected, even mildly amused or surprised by the bullying behavior. That's easier said than done when your self-esteem is being pummeled, but somehow my son managed. He pulled it off and it worked like a charm. Truly, like a charm. It has been several months now, and he is no longer the object of assault. Now and again he gets teased, but he blows it off and, as Mr. Kalman observes, the teasing moves on in search of another victim. He has learned to roll with, or roll off, the punches.
He's stronger, sadly, and less open to people, less the outgoing, funny, popular kid he was before all this brutality. No more panic attacks, no more depression. But he's back on honor roll, he is making--very tentatively--a few friends. He's taking an interest in his appearance and doesn't dread going to school, or no more than any teen-age boy.
I have the feeling that Mr. Kalman saved my son's life. Bravo, Mr. K. Glad to hear that someone is joining in this important work. Perhaps soon you can accumulate enough "empirical evidence" to have an impact on monkey island.
Concerned Parent, thank you so much for your letter, and I hope that it will spur others in a similar situation to visit my website and find the solution to their misery.
My free manual, How to Stop Being Teased and Bullied without Really Trying, as well as two other manuals, can be accessed here: http://bullies2buddies.com/resources/free-manuals/